The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Lesson Five, Number 8: Autolyse

Lesson Five, Number 8: Autolyse

When reading recipes for French Bread, a lot of baking books will tell you to combine the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and then beat the bejeezus out of the dough. 10, 15, even 20 minutes of beating is not unusual to read about in order to get maximum gluten development.

But stop and think for a moment: bread has been around for some time, longer than stand mixers have. Do you honestly think the village baker had the strength to knead a trough full of dough for 20 minutes in the days before stand mixers? Or that he had a gaggle of Oompa Loompas to do the mixing for him? Of course not!

Heavy mixing is how boulangeries today make pain ordinaire, I've been told. But more interesting breads with better, more subtle flavors require different techniques. One of the simplest is known as autolyse.

How do you use the autolyse technique? Simply combine the flour and water from your recipe in your mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic or a damp towel. Walk away for 20 minutes to half an hour. That's it.


While you were away the flour was absorbing the water and the gluten strands have begun to develop. Now you can mix in your preferment, your salt, and the remainder of your yeast and, with very little mixing, achieve a high level of development with considerably less work. The crumb of your dough is also likely to come out much whiter since it has not been highly oxidized by all the beating and whipping.

Better bread, less work. What's to complain about?

Next up: Number 7: The Wetter, The Better.


slidething's picture

Hmmm .... Interesting

Would this work for Struan - Mix the cup of water with 7 cups of flour , mix 2/3 minutes then walk away and come back and add everything else including the 1/2 cup you use to adjust the wettness with?



hitz333's picture

I've used this method a couple of times now, but I'm at a loss for the best way to mix in the salt thoroughly. For a dough that will be stretched and folded instead of kneaded, I get worried that the salt won't be mixed in well. Generally by the time it has sat for 20 minutes the gluten is too strong for spoon mixing, but I get incredibly messy trying to work it in by hand and feel like I'm defeating the purpose of avoiding heavier mixing or kneading. I then put the dough in the fridge overnight and the next couple of stretch and folds are with cold dough, which is much less messy. I do not have a stand mixer. Any suggestions?

Prairie19's picture

I agree Hitz, adding the salt after autolyse makes hand mixing and kneading more difficult.  The salt seems to draw moisture out of the dough and form an unpleasant film on the surface of the dough that takes a lot of extra time to work out.

I've found it simpler to just whisk together the dry ingredients (salt and flour), and then add the liquid ingredients (water and liquid sourdough starter).  Mix everything to form a shaggy mass and let rest for 30 to 40 minutes.  Then knead or stretch and fold as you prefer.

I suppose adding salt before autolyse is not technically correct, but I've tried both methods and really can't tell the difference in the final loaf.



BeekeeperJ's picture

So far I have combined all of the ingredients including the yeast in my pizza dough mix for instance.  1 min on low until all are mixed and then a 20 min sit before the 8-10 min knead with mixer.  Havent tried it without the yeast yet but according to Jeff Verasano and his pizza article for Neo pizza, he says he hasnt seen any difference in using either just water and flour, or water flour salt, so he suggest just putting it all together and still reaping the benefits. I do know that my dough before the use of autolyse is way different than the dough with it.  My crust browns better and tastes more complex and the texture is just better.  Maybe i will try no yeast someday but the dough i ;make is outstanding for sicilians or thin crust pizzas.

nofate's picture

I ran across this series of experiments by Northwest Sourdough :

Experiments with Autolyse (Autolysis) #1

Experiments with Autolyse # 2

The basic idea is to add yeast to your initial mix, then autolyse for 2 hours before adding salt.  I have been routinely doing this since I read these articles and the results have been very rewarding.

Adding salt is also fairly easy.  But you have to get the dough, which is very sticky in high hydration doughs, spread out so you can sprinkle the salt evenly over the dough, then fold it up into a ball for bulk fermentation and more stretch & folds.  After numerous disastrous attempts to do this using flour to dust the counter and hands (all the while reducing the hydration of the dough), I ran across the following article listed under "Highest Rated Articles" on TFL's home page:  Eye Opening Techniques.  There is a wealth of information there, but if you read down to near the bottom, there is an entry by ehanner (evidently his last entry on that article before his passing- I have noted that he is held in high regard by long time members of TFL), French Fold-Slap & Fold , that links to two videos. 

Stretch & Fold video #1

Stretch & Fold video #2

If you have difficulty handling sticky dough without getting it all over your hands, watch these videos.  The first time I watched this guy doing this, I was thinking "What in the (expletive deleted) is he doing putting all that water all over the counter and his hands?!!  Well, I tried it, and it worked.  Have used it ever since, and I only use flour during the shaping phase of the process, otherwise it is difficult to pinch the loaves/baguettes closed because they get really slippery.  It is so idiot simple I couldn't help but wonder why I hadn't thought of it myself.

Anyway, on adding salt:  notice in the second video how he spreads the dough out a little before folding it up?  I have found that by getting a little more extreme with that and (still with barely wet hands & counter, adding moisture as needed if the dought begins to stick anywhere) spreading the dough out to about 1/4" to 1/2" thick, you can evenly sprinkle on the salt, then fold up the dough for bulk rise.  I have even added dried cherries, toasted pecans and salt all together, then done a frisage to incorporate the large pieces evenly, before folding up and placing back in the container for bulk rise.  It is amazing how easy it is to do a frisage without dough sticking to your hands when you keep them moist.

Another thing I have found useful is a very wide bowl that I found several years ago when first starting to bake bread.  It allows easy S&F in the bowl, still using wet hands & plastic scraper.  I don't have a counter like the guy in the video so I just turn on the cold water in a very small spaghetti thin stream and wet things as needed.

I have become a huge fan of 2 hour autolyse and S&F throughout the whole process of building a loaf.  I no longer have to stand at a mixer, in fact it's not used anymore except to mix up a quick bread (an instant yeast type bread with one rise and a loaf pan).  Nor is it necessary to spend frustrating time scraping dough off my fingers and hands.  The whole process has become much easier, and the levain does all the work, not me.


njjohnson's picture

I think you will find that using the stretch/fold method (preceded by the autolyse period) will result in a crumb that is not whiter, but one that retains the subtle cream-color (very subtle) of the flour.  It is over-oxidation via pummeling the dough in a mixer that brings about the white crumb, while a less oxidized dough will retain some color.  I have evidence of this from two fronts:  a class at King Arthur Education Center where the effect was clearly demonstrated by Jeffrey Hamelman  and in my own efforts as a Serious Home Baker using a autolyse followed by stretch/fold method with all my doughs.

Samantha M's picture
Samantha M

Simply combine the flour and water from your recipe in your mixing bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic or a damp towel. Walk away for 20 minutes to half an hour........ Now you can mix in your preferment, your salt, and the remainder of your yeast and, with very little did you add some of the yeast to the flour and water if then we are to add remainder of yeast? 

Feel the Knead's picture
Feel the Knead

I am very unclear as to whether or not part of the yeast is suppose to be added to the initial mixture. 

bruneski's picture

... both of you is "No, don`t add any yeast to the mixture of water and flour that will be autolysed!"

Have a great day!

Feel the Knead's picture
Feel the Knead

Because I didn't do it that way!  


I've got my fourth batch rising right now.  Did two yesterday.  


It is miraculous what autolysing does.  Cannot thank you people enough! 


Now all I have to do is figure out how to get the BOTTOM brown...  o.O  lol

tecton47's picture

Hi Knead,

I used to bake for a living and the trick I used was simple--but only works if you're using a loaf pan or something that contains the loaf in some way vs baking on a stone. When the bread is about 5 minutes from being done, I'd pull (dump, cajole, beg, shake) the loaf from the pan. Now crank your oven as high as it'll go. Place the now un-panned loaf right on the oven rack for 5 - 10 minutes (it varies from one oven to the next) until crisp and brown. My customers loved it! Like all facets of bread baking, play around with times/temps to see what works best for you!

As Socrates once said, "Don't get upset if your bread doesn't come out the way you'd like because the world always needs croutons."

dabrownman's picture

and when baking in a DO I even dump that out onto the rack or stone to let it finish the last 5 minutes.  Makes for some great crust.  For even more crunch - turn off the oven when the bread hits 205 F and let it sit there with the door ajar for 5 more minutes then remove to a cooling rack.

Feel the Knead's picture
Feel the Knead

For French loaves, I don't have such a problem getting the bottoms brown anymore.  Normal loaves - which I don't make very often at all anymore, b/c the French is so much better - I still have trouble with, so I'll definitely try this next time.  Thank you!   ( ◠‿◠ ) 

Au Levain's picture
Au Levain

I'm new to all this, but thought I'd join in!

I have had some success... finally! been experimenting for months!


I mix my 500g of white bread flour, 170g of starter and 280ml of water.

I then make a 12g of salt and 20ml of water [boiling] and mix a few times to dissolve the salt.

I leave for an hour, sometimes two then add the salt/water combo. I don't add any yeast.

I then knead for 3 mins and stretch 4 times rotating 90° after each stretch.

Leave 1 hour, repeat the stretch, hourly for another 2 or 3 times.

After that it's in a floured banneton overnight, then cook!

As for getting the bottom brown, I cook on a pizza stone, that went in when the oven was heating up.

230°C for 30 mins, then 15 mins at 200°C, oh and I also heat up a baking tray in the bottom of the oven [from cold] when the dough goes in, I put 400ml of cold water [tap] in tray.

The hard part is waiting for it to cool!





snakycake's picture

To successfully create an Autolyse to reduce the amount of rough mixing, do you need to add a Preferment?
Or can you just do as this lesson states?
I suppose it wouldn't really work without a preferment.

blaza192's picture

No, you do not need to use a preferment. Yeast/preferment is told to be added after since the acid they produce can interfere with the gluten formation that occurs during autolyse.

huxtable's picture

I don't claim to be a bread baking expert, but over the last year I've discovered the benefits of autolysing. My solution to the issue noted (trying to knead in salt / yeast etc into autolysed dough) is very simple (so simple I never even thought to do otherwise), but I think very effective.

When initially combining the water and flour to autolyse, simply don't use all the flour. I use roughly 75% of the total amount of flour, with the full amount of water.

This means that after autolyse, the mixture is still very "wet", and the yeast and then salt can be mixed in easily enough, before the remaining flour is added. As I bake with lots of grains etc as well, this is the perfect time to mix them in (before the remaining flour is added).

Like most of my baking these days, the precise amounts of ingredients are based entirely on feel rather than precise weights etc. So it might take a little bit of trial and error to get it perfect, but give it a try!

Hai's picture

Not being an bread expert as well, I do all of these as I've learned from Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread. I only use natural leaven and no commercial yeast but I would imagine that the process is similar. I mix the exact quantities of different types of flour in a bowl. All the amount! In a different bowl I measure 84% of the water and all the leaven and steer to disperse. To the water/leaven solution I add all the flour and mix by hand until the mass has no dry flour. It would feel sticky at first, but less so after 3-4 minutes of mixing. Clean my hand with a spatula, cover with wet kitchen towel and let it rest for 40-60 minutes. I now spread the salt over the dough and the rest of the water. With my two hands, I now kneed and mix the water, salt and the dough, until all the water is absorbed by the dough. By now the dough is not as sticky although the water/flour ratio is 80%. Again cover with a wet kitchen towel, and with a wet hand stretch the dough 3-4 times every 30-40 minutes for 3 hours. When done, put it on the bench, initial shape and a 30 minutes bench rest. Final shaping and into the proofing basket, covered with a plastic bag for a night in the fridge. I bake the next morning.

Hai's picture

ready for the ovenbench rest

Hai's picture